Archive for category CO2 and Business

Economic crisis - the perfect opportunity for green measures - if only they could see it

No cutsIt’s 2012 and the world is undergoing major economic upheaval. In pretty much every major country the buzzword is ‘cuts’. Cuts to staff, cuts to expenditure and cuts to investment. Although governments are talking about long-term plans, most actions seem very short-termist, and it’s therefore not a very good time for green initiatives, most of which will take time and need investment. This is all meant to save money, but it’s definitely putting a stop to saving the planet!

And, from a CO2 reduction point of view, I think they’ve got it wrong in so many ways. I realise you probably need financial training to work it out, but it seems to me that governments are putting their own welfare over that of the people. Throughout the 4 years that I’ve been writing this blog (ok, not so often recently…), I have focused on one message above all others: the measures you take to reduce emissions can also save you money.

Instead of reducing investment in green initiatives, governments - and especially the UK government should be pushing them forwards and helping individuals, companies, even their own institutions reduce their costs. Here are some examples:

  1. A greater push and tighter regulations on company emissions. Greater awareness on electricity consumption alone could reduce electricity bills hugely across the country.
  2. Backing off from cutting the feed-in tariff. I know the government has just suffered a defeat on this, but they really need to rethink and maintain the higher rate for now. A huge opportunity exists here to help whole communities save money by installing solar panels.
  3. Tightening vehicle emissions rules still further and even considering subsidising the development of EVs. It’s a no-brainer. Let’s make our cars more efficient and stop this bank-breaking dependency on petrol.
  4. Encouraging other forms of green transport. How’s about giving tax breaks to people who cycle? Or allowing them to claim expenses to maintain their bikes? How’s about making the ‘Cycle to work’ scheme obligatory in every company over a certain size? Millions have already flocked to two wheels (me included) but more would follow if given a little push in the right direction.
  5. I know that there are some initiatives coming up that use this kind of thinking, including an loan scheme to help home owners invest in green energy, but more could and should be done.

    There, rant over for today. But I think I’m going to keep on at this one.


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Powwownow vs the airlines - an update

Following their excellent piece of guerrilla advertising, conference calling company Powwownow have kept up their competitive campaign, this time targeting British Airways.

They have launched a ’spoof’ airline called Fly Powwownow, and as their first ’special offer’, are offering 5,000 free conference calls to small businesses. This is in reponse to a B.A. promotion earlier this year, where they offered 5,000 business class flights to businesses.

Again, the message is good: special offers on flights encourage people to fly more and maybe unnnecessarily, thus generating additional emissions. More importantly, however, Powwownow’s use of the word ‘free’ is important here, as B.A.’s offer isn’t really free at all, once you take into account travel to the airport plus unavoidable airport taxes.

So hats off to Powwownow for keeping up the fight, for giving us new ways to save money and CO2 emissions oh, and thanks for the free conference calls - I’m certainly taking them up on the offer.

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Guerilla Advertising hits back at the airlines

I was reading Metro this morning and came upon an excellent piece of ‘guerilla’ advertising from conference call company Powwownow, in response to a recent advertising campaign from airline flybe (the image below shows the original ad and the response):

Powwownow guerilla ad

There has been a recent ‘push’ by airlines, targeting businesses with the message that face to face meetings are better, and that it’s always worth flying to meetings. Boris Johnson even flew to New York FOR ONE DAY to back up this message… hmmm a great use of CO2 then by London’s generally green mayor. This one, however, hit a nerve with Powwownow, specifically with the blatant (in red), and I reckon difficult to defend message: ‘Conference Calls DON’T win business’.

I love their response: a defaced version of the flybe ad that clearly highlights the benefits of conference calls: much much cheaper, and no CO2. Ok, if we want to be pernickety, there are some CO2 emissions involved in a conference call, but in comparison with travelling to the airport, taking the plane, travelling to the meeting, travelling back from the meeting, taking the plane back, and travelling home… well, there’s no comparison is there?

In fact, the contrast is so absurd, they’ve also launched a new ‘airline’ - highlighting the cost differences!

I’m the first one to admit that there are still reasons to take the plane, but as a business person it really winds me up when the airlines in their desperation try to use flawed business messages to justify their existence and encourage more people to fly. Conference calls do win business, and there are many more occasions where it would be just as efficient, cheaper, and better for the planet to have a conference call rather than getting on a plane. Instead, they need to focus on the real task ahead: how to reduce emissions from air travel, and dramatically, rather than trying to hoodwink a more and more well-informed audience.

So good on you Powwownow for fighting back in your own little way - let’s set up a call to discuss next steps!

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Shell gives up on wind, solar and hydro power. Why bother?

Amongst the myriad of different opinions voiced every day regarding the best solutions for reducing world CO2 emissions, there is at least one consensus: we can’t achieve anything without a major push from and the support of governments AND big business. When talking of big business, there’s nothing much bigger than the oil producers, with their huge annual profits, credit crunch or no credit crunch, and amongst the oil producers, few come bigger than Shell.

Until recently, the energy companies seemed to be doing all they could to demonstrate their green credentials. BP has changed their logo and become an ‘Energy Company’. Total talks about ’sustainable development’. Esso talks about ‘provide energy, protect the environment’. All of them have been actively investing in other energy sources and making a lot of noise about it, showing a ‘green side’, and also in a sort of admission about the peak oil situation. Of course they are still producing and selling as much oil as possible, but at least they are helping to take the world forwards in the crucial search for the energy solutions of the future.

But now, all of a sudden, Shell has announced that they are stopping all investment in wind, solar and hydro power as they are not ‘economic. Instead they are re-focusing on biofuels. Linda Cook, Shell’s executive director of gas and power, said: “If there aren’t investment opportunities which compete with other projects we won’t put money into it. We are businessmen and women. If there were renewables [which made money] we would put money into it.”

Wow…. hold the front page! Renewables aren’t money-making today, and Shell has been kind enough to tell us! Thank you so much. Amazingly enough, we all know this, or at least that renewables don’t offer the profit-making potential of oil, but we also know that this is early days. The first nuclear power stations took years to become profitable, but we persevered, and technology improved. Similarly, solar power has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years, as have wind and hydro, but the only way for them to reach the nirvana of genuine profit is via serious investment in research and development, the kind of investment only available to the oil companies with their billions in annual profits.

But apparently Shell does not want to lead the way in this area. They don’t want to set an example, and their excuse is because it’s a waste of money.

I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of the oil companies (I can’t think why), but what seems a better investment to you: (allegedly) spending millions on paying people not to prove that oil is a major contributor to CO2 emissions and global warming, or spending millions on future, cleaner energy sources - basically to ensure that these very companies have a future?

They have the infrastructure, they have the scientists, they have the money, but unfortunately, Shell don’t seem to have the will to help us improve the way we all live. Sadly, we will have to look elsewhere for the example-setters at this crucial time.

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How can we continue to reduce CO2 emissions and stimulate the economy?

In these difficult economic times, many people have voiced concern over the fact that the many advances made over the last few years in the battle against global warming may be negated due to the sudden massive reduction in investment in this area.

It has always been recognised that investment is required on a public and, to a lesser extent a private level in order to reduce our CO2 emissions at the speed recommended to avoid major global incidents. Governments need to invest in our infrastructure, in planning for a future where oil becomes more and more scarce, and where less is more with regard to energy consumption, and everyday people need to invest in changing their lightbulbs, replacing inefficient appliances, and in more efficient, but more expensive fuel sources. Suddenly noone has any money: the governments have spent it on saving our banks, and people have lost it on the markets, in the drop in the value of housing, or quite simply by losing their jobs. Everyone is tightening their belt, and this is not good news for the new, Green Economy.

Barack Obama, I am glad to say, has made huge steps to counter these concerns by guaranteeing investment in the Green Economy. He has openly said that his goal is to stimulate the economy by investing in this new area, creating new jobs, planning for a better future, and, ultimately, saving people money in the process. In the UK, however, we haven’t quite got that far. There is proposed investment in improving efficiency in our homes, but many other potential areas of investment still seem up in the air, either due to lack of funds or lack of decision-making.

Which is why a briefing paper published this week by Lord Stern of Stern Report fame and Alex Bowen, entitled ‘An outline of the case for a ‘Green’ stimulus is well worth paying attention to. This short but perfectly formed document takes an intelligent, practical approach with the aim of identifying how boosting the Green Economy can boost our economy overall, thus justifying ongoing investment in spite of hard times.

The report looks at a range of different solutions currently which have been, are being, or should be considered to help us reduce our CO2 emissions. It then looks at each of them from several angles, with the goal of identifying those solutions that can both promote economic recovery and limit the adverse effects of climate change. How quickly can each solution be implemented, is the investment required short or long-term, how much will it help reduce emissions, and will it help businesses and everyday people save money, thus aiding recovery?

Based on these scoring criteria, the 5 best performers are:

  • Improving residential home energy efficiency
  • Improving public building energy efficiency
  • Replacing boilers on a massive scale
  • Replacing lights and other appliances
  • Producing new, fuel-efficient cars

And the worst 5 solutions are:

  • Domestic renewable energy
  • Encouraging energy R&D
  • Connected urban transport
  • Advanced Battery development
  • Carbon capture and storage projects

I don’t totally agree with the scoring in every case, and it would be easy to change around the order by changing the criteria, but the approach is still very interesting and makes you think. I’m happy to know that point 1 seems to be already in progress, but I feel that point 2 needs far more investment and point 3 is simply too expensive to consider today. And don’t even get me on to fuel-efficient cars, as the car companies are really dragging their heels here, and because for me this is totally linked with advanced battery development.

Still, at a time when difficult choices have to be made, I am impressed by this attempt to help clarify the arguments for the different solutions. If you want to learn more, you can read the whole paper here - it’s not too long and well worth the read.

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NICE Car Company goes into administration - where’s the support for the cars of the future?

I was going to write a positive article today. I’ve been researching the electric car market this week, and was starting to get excited at the increasing number of options - some of them even starting to compete with the internal combustion engine in terms of top speed and distance between charges, and at the cars that have been announced for the next 12 months.

The announcement of the new electric Mini put me into an even better mood because, although it’s still not that practical (only 2 seats, and a maximum range of 150 miles), and at least for 2009 will only be available for a limited trial, it is tangible evidence of the mainstream car manufacturers looking for solutions in the electric vehicle market.

So, boosted by all of this good news, I was intending to write about how we seemed, finally, to be reaching a ‘tipping point’, where electric cars are actually being taken seriously, even by the mainstream, and looking forward to exciting developments over the next few years: the first electric 4-seater; the first 400 mile electric car; the first electric car that is genuinely worth its price.

And then came this morning, and not one, but two pieces of depressing news:

First, I read that the NICE Car Company, along with G-Wiz the UK’s main electric car distributor today, has gone into administration. Apparently sales had dipped to under 1 car per week this year and, in spite of bullish announcements about new models and a new test-drive stall in the new Westfield shopping centre, they have run out of funds.

Secondly, it seems that this exciting new market has been flat as a pancake in 2008, with a total of 156 sales this year, a 58% dip on 2007. Most of these were sold by G-Wiz, who seem to be surviving, but it must be touch and go even for them.

So maybe the constructors and distributors are waking up to the opportunity, but the public is not? Clearly the recession has played an important part in this dip, but what has happened to the crucial message: invest in low-emissions solutions, save the planet, and save money?

Ok, so I’d be the first to admit that currently available electric cars are by no means everyone’s cup of tea - in fact they are totaly impractical for many of us. In general only 2 real seats, which cuts out families, a short range, which means they are almost certainly a second car, and now most London boroughs have withdrawn their previous offer of totally free parking, replacing it with time-limited free parking. On top of all of this is the price range, running from £8,000 to around £15,000 for the just-launched 4-seater Ze-0.

We musn’t forget, however, that these guys are the forerunners, the start of the revolution. They may not be perfect, but they get our attention, and they get the message out there. This is not the time for things to stumble to a halt and start to go backwards. There is a market for these little cars, even in a downturn, and I think that with some targeted marketing and by running a tight ship, they could easily turn a small profit.

Which is why I am hoping against hope that our dear government, desperate to preserve institutions such as banking, might take a leaf from the USA’s books and also look for a solution to support the electric car industry. The investment will be minimal, but to me it’s absolutely crucial. Still, I’m not holding out much hope - does anyone know any investors out there? If not, do let anyone interested in buying a NICE know that right now, they just might get a good deal. Visit the NICE Car Company web site for more information.

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Billions to save the banks. What price to reduce the world’s emissions?

We all enjoy dreaming, and I’m no exception. It gives me a warm feeling inside to imagine how things would be if our wishes actually came true.

For anyone who cares about our world’s future, reducing CO2 emissions and improving the earth’s ability to absorb them shouldn’t be a dream, but when you look at the snail speed at which governments are currently moving, at the excuses put forward every time another target is missed, then perhaps fantasy is a more apt word than dream. And the most common excuse used is ‘we don’t have enough money’.

Only last week I read that the UK’s ambitious targets for building wind farms don’t have a chance without investment that is currently not forthcoming. As the Guardian commented - it’s all very well setting an ambitious and necessary target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050, but we all know that unless there is a dramatic change in the attitude towards investment in renewable energies, it will never be achieved. Whilst positive noises are being made in public, negotiations go on behind the scene to back out of targets or push them back, and every time the investment needed is cited as the main reason. Apparently our governments just can’t afford to put in place the necessary schemes to achieve the goals they are setting, in spite of the dire warnings on what may happen if they don’t.

And yet, when there is a global crisis in the financial markets, suddenly there is enough money to save our banks. Not millions, not billions, not even hundreds of billions, but trillions are immediately made available to help out our ailing financial institutions and their oh so poor employees. Of course it was important to save the banks - it was either that or financial chaos, but the point is that the money - a lot of money - was there in the event of a crisis.

The world’s governments now seem to agree that if radical action is not taken to reduce CO2 emissions, and fast, our planet will go through some dramatic changes before the end of this century, changes that could affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people. If they’re right, then surely this is a crisis on the scale of the financial meltdown we are experiencing, although with one difference: we can see it coming, and we have time to do something about it?  In fact, if we do something about it now, it will cost us a hell of a lot less than in twenty years’ time when some of the predicted and potentially irreversible changes have already started to take place.

For instance, it is estimated that the UK’s plan to generated 36% of all energy from renewable sources by 2020 will cost around £50 billion. Even taking economies of scale into account, surely a complete conversion to renewables would only cost maybe £500 billion, and this over as much as 20 years? So why are there regular rumours that suggest that we will miss the 2020 target due to cost issues, and by a mile too?  If we look at things from a global perspective (which is of course more relevant), how much do we think it would cost to protect and even start to restore the rain forests, or to push for a complete conversion of transport to a cleaner fuel source by 2020? Yes, it’s a huge amount of money, but all I know is that drip-feeding in order to keep all parties happy today and to win votes, is certain to make many more people unhappy tomorrow.

The media often use the phrase ’short termism’ these days - basically another way to describe the policies of governments that are reactive rather than proactive. We have a real opportunity to avoid short termism in the battle to reduce CO2 emissions, and I just can’t understand why more isn’t being done to take advantage of it. Yes, it will cost a lot, but it has just been proved that the money can be found. Maybe it’s not a dream after all…


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Reducing emissions - the ideal way to fight the Credit Crunch

Just in case anyone has had their head in the sand for the first 5 months of this year I just wanted to confirm officially: things are getting tighter financially, and it’s going to get worse. At any rate, that’s my reading of what I see going on around me in the UK. Mortgages (if you can get one) are going up, petrol is going up as are other fuel bills, food is going up, house values are going down…

So what should we do about it? Well we can do the classic thing and moan a lot and wait to be helped by the government, or we can look at our lives and see how we can ’slim down’ our expenses, cutting out the unnecessary costs in order to leave us more to spend on the things we can’t do without.

There have been several articles in the papers recently wondering whether a recession will cause businesses and consumers to give up on their efforts to cut their CO2 emissions as there are more important things to worry about. I think that this is a complete contradiction in terms for both businesses and consumers. Reducing your CO2 emissions will always save you money, and in some cases it will cost you nothing or next to nothing.

Above all, there are all the obvious things you can do, many of which are covered in my Reduce Your CO2 Tips of the Day. Most of these apply to offices and to homes and nowadays it’s often offices who are the main culprits, committing such sins as leaving monitors, printers and even lights on all night. Businesses also have an advantage in that, if you own your offices, investing in solar or wind power will have an immediate effect on overheads whilst being considered an investment that adds value to the company. At home, it’s simply a matter of changing your behaviour, for instance by doing the round of all the sockets every night to switch them off, or not day dreaming in the shower!

Many of us know about these relatively simple actions, and to me they should not be presented so much as something we HAVE to do because the world is in danger (although this may be true). First and foremost, they are common sense. Why waste money? Why spend more money heating your house than is necessary? If there’s one thing that winds me up, it’s the comments of global warming naysayers about conusuming for all their worth, because they can, and because it won’t have any effect anyway. Let’s put aside the effect bit, and simply look at what they are proposing: let’s spend as much money as possible where we don’t need to, just because we can.

Ok, enough ranting. Reducing CO2 emissions is about becoming more efficient, and in many cases with little or no effort. Right now this is what everyone needs to know, and it’s what I’m saying to anyone who will listen. What would be really good, would be if governments tried out the same message. Let’s stop talking about more or less green taxes and where they go. Let’s cut down on the doom and gloom, which causes huge divides of opinion, apathy in some, and panic in others. Let’s just concentrate on using our common sense and sitting back to enjoy the fact that by saving money on our energy bills we have stopped the credit crunch from affecting us.

 Oh, and we’ve reduced our CO2 emissions in the process….

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IHT - the ‘road’ to environmentally friendly heating?

An article in the environment section of today’s Guardian has caught my eye, as it talks about what must be one of the most original low emissions heating solutions yet proposed - and what’s more there are no issues with installing solar panels or wind turbines that annoy the NIMBY neighbours…

It’s called IHT - Interseasonal Heat Transfer, and the main energy source is already there (well ok, as you will see, there is some ‘adaptation’) - roads, runways, carparks, tennis courts, anything made of asphalt. Basically, IHT takes the heat absorbed by asphalt surfaces and transfers it to liquid, which is then stored in insulated tubes until it is needed, when it can be pumped out. At a basic level, this solution can be used to heat and, using convection in the opposite direction, cool roads to help them last longer and avoid freezing or melting. When combined with a geothermal heat pump, it can however also be used to heat buildings.

The advantage of this solution is of course that there are no additional blots on the landscape to worry about. Yes, you have to dig up your road, car park or runway in order to install the system, but then how many roads are dug up every year?

Invisible Heating Systems, who are selling the solution, claim approximately 33 square metres of tarmac will heat 100 square metres of a house, and that 400 square metres can provide 108 mW of power per annum.

Of course this is almost certainly not a cheap option, but I think it holds huge potential, at least for public areas and businesses, with greater funds or public sector support, and more likely access to large areas of tarmac. It is also a genuine example of the kind of lateral thinking that engineers and scientists must use to find solutions to reduce CO2 emissions. New inventions are needed, but they will always take longer to get to market. Harking back to Blue Peter and using the tools and materials already available to use will often bring about solutions that are more efficient, and more acceptable too. This is one technology I will be following closely.

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UK Budget: is that all the green you’ve got, Darling?

Sorry for the sad headlines, but why not follow the crowd - after all, the name just asks for it, and I’m afraid to say that my respect for the man has not increased dramatically following his performance of the other day.

This was billed as ‘the greenest budget yet’. Probably the cleverest part of the whole speech, as this wasn’t exactly difficult. What’s more, the green ‘bit’ started with some promise, as Alistair Darling confirmed that the government takes global warming very seriously, and recognised the importance of acting, and acting now…. except he then went on to pretty much postpone all the acting till a later date, immediately ruining the effect of this statement and, for me at any rate, preparing us for a series of disappointing promises.

This is what we got:

  • The proposed increase in fuel duty by 2p is delayed until October in order to help the economy
  • The government will ask the Climate Change committee to advise them on whether CO2 reduction targets for 2050 should be raised from 60% to 80%
  • Carbon budgets will be announced alongside the budget as of next year
  • Energy companies are to encourage us to reduce our electricity consumption
  • If supermarkets don’t take action on reducing the use of plastic bags, a charge will be imposed on them as of 2009
  • £26 million has been allocated to a Green Homes Service
  • New non-domestic buildings must be CO2 neutral by 2019
  • Revenue from plane duty is increased by 10%
  • New tax bands will be introduced to punish those with polluting cars / encourage the purchase of less-polluting cars
  • As of 2010, a special first year charge will be introduced - new cars emitting under 130 grammes of CO2 will be free of tax for that year, whilst high-polluting cars will have an increased tax - effectively a forecourt tax.

So how would I translate all of the above? Lots of promises to do things in the future - hmmm, not much urgency there, threats about plastic bags (apparently to keep Daily Mail readers happy), good intentions about zero Carbon businesses, a bit more money from the airlines (I wonder where it will be spent? Maybe it can go towards building the new runway…), no car tax for green cars in their first year as of 2010 (wow, an incentive!), and punishment for gas guzzlers.

Frankly, it’s not much, and it certainly doesn’t reflect the statement that ‘the need to take action is urgent’. I know that things take time to put in place in government, but this is a budget that commits to do not very much over the next 2 years, and to talk about doing some other things in the future. And, of course, there’s no real ‘carrot’ to encourage us to take action ourselves. In fact the famous system of grants for microgeneration seems to have vanished!

I know we’re entering a recession, that money is tight, that the government’s priority is to try to see us through it safe, but reducing our CO2 emissions gives us an opportunity to save money, something we need to do right now. What’s more it is urgent to do things now, not next year, and certainly not in 2016!

This may have been the greenest budget yet, but it won’t make a difference. The UK, leading Europe in its apathy towards reducing emissions.

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